Saturday, March 22, 2014

An-Nahar Remembers Met. Philip Saliba

Arabic original here.

Metropolitan Philip Saliba

By Fr. Emil Yacoub (Mojaes)

The pastor of the Archdiocese of North America, Metropolitan Philip Saliba departed yesterday. With his departure, a dear page closes in the bright story that goes from the sleeepy village of Abu Mizan in the North Metn of Mount Lebanon to New York in the United States, headquarters of the Archdiocese, to... eternity.

He is Abdallah Elias Saliba, a son of the village of Abu Mizan and its small, historic church of Saint George where he would participate in the religious ceremonies and church services when he was a small child. One summer day, at the end of the 1940's, Patriarch Alexander Tahhan made a pastoral visit to this village dependent on the Monastery of Saint Elias- Shwayya, the summer residence of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, in Dhour Choueir. He wanted to pray in the ancient Church of Saint George there and so he headed for the village riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey, because the road did not yet reach there. He very much wanted to support the people of the village and to get acquainted with their affairs and concerns and to put them under his pastoral care, especially since they were partners in the monastery and worked its land.

After the Divine Liturgy, he headed to the home of Elias Bu Khalil Saliba, with whom he had a bond of friendship, since he chanted in the monastery's church and in the village church. All the people of the village circled round the patriarch to receive and blessing and have some coffee... One of those present lept up and said, "Sayyedna, this child (poyinting to Abdallah) has a beautiful voice." So the patriarch asked Abdallah to let him hear him chant and so he obeyed and started to chant one of the well-known hymns of the Church. The patriarch was filled with joy and gladness and was impressed with him. He said, "Who is he?" The one who had pointed him out replied, "He's the son of your friend Elias." So the patriarch looked at Elias Bou Khalil Saliba and said in a loud voice that all could hear, "Bou Nasif, the Church asks for this spiritual child, if you have no objection." Bou Nasif replied, "How can I have an objection when the Church is asking for my son to serve in the Lord's field?" The patriarch answered, "So take your son to the monastery tomorrow so that he may join with those who will become servants of the Church's flocks."

When the boy's mother became sure that it was inevitable and there was no going back, and after she had used all means at her disposal to try to convince Bou Nasif to change his earnest opinion, she wept bitterly because she could not bear the absence of her son! Roads were not like they are toay and moving from one place to another-- especially to monasteries-- was difficult.

The next day, Bou Nasif accompanied his son Abdallah to the monastery and put him into the care of Patriarch Alexander. The patriarch asked Abdallah once more to chant a piece of music for him and he heeded the request. The patriarch was even more impressed with him and his desire to educate him increased.

The father returned to his home in the village of Abu Mizan, joyful and sorrowful at the same time-- joyful because his son  had been adopted by the Church and sorrowful because he was away from him. With the start of studies at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, the patriarch sent Abdallah there to join the brothers would learn the principles of theology and the preparatory curriculum for students just as in all schools, so that they could perform the church services and master the art of Byzantine music.

After some time, Metropolitan Iliya Saliba of Beirut came to Balamand. He heard the young man chanting and he was impressed with his voice. He asked the patriarch's permission for Abdallah Saliba to be one of his students in Beirut. This is what happened. He was ordained deacon and remained in the diocese of Beirut for around two years. He then traveled to London to finish his studies in philosophy and theology at one of the universities there. From there he corresponded with Metropolitan Anthony Bashir of America, who hastened to invite him and enroll him at Saint Vladimir's Seminary, under the Russian patriarchate. After that, Metropolitan Anthony Bashir ordained him as a priest for the parish in Cleveland. There he got to know the people of the parish and began his spiritual, human and social-- and also political-- path, especially as pertaining to the mother country, since he took part in most Arab-American conferences dealing with Middle Eastern issues. After the passing of Metropolitan Anthony Bashir, the council of the Antiochian Archdiocese chose him from among seven candidates to be the thrice-blessed Anthony's successor, giving him an overwhelming majority of the votes. The Holy Synod of Antioch unanimously elected him metropolitan of the United States and all North America. Patriarch Theodore Abourjaily was very familiar with him, with his pastoral activities and with his loyalty to the Mother Church of Antioch and the churches in the Holy Land-- Jeruslam, Bethlehem and the other cities and villages where Christ the Lord walked... How could he not, when he had taken Saint Philip as his namesake and intercessor, since this saint was from Sidon and Tyre, where Christ had also set foot?

Patriarch Theodore VI delegated Metropolitan Elias Korban of Tripoli and al-Koura to go to America and raise the priest Philip Elias Saliba to the rank of archimandrite and to accompany him to Lebanon, to the Patriarchal Monastery of Saint Elias- Shwayya, where the patriarch consecrated him metropolitan of the United States and all North America. In 1966, the year when he received the diocese, there were around 60 churches in America. Today, after over 45 years and due to his pastoral care, activity and concern, the Antiochian Church in North America has around 260 churches, reaching all the way to Alaska, in addition to the exemplary Antiochian Village...

Unto eternal life, Metropolitan Philip... there where reside the righteous, the saints and the fathers of our glorious Antiochian Church.

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